GaWC Research Bulletin 20

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Global Networks, 2 (2), (2002), 111-132.


Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Attending to the World: Competition/Co-operation and Co-efficiency in the World City Network

J.V. Beaverstock, M.A. Doel, P.J. Hubbard and P.J. Taylor


World cities are acknowledged to be key aspects of globalization. In many accounts, these cities are depicted as rivals in a global marketplace, their economic success a result of their 'competitive advantage'. However, what has not been fully acknowledged is their connectivity, and the time and effort taken by specific 'attendants' to produce the world city network. Accordingly, this paper aims to advance understanding of world city network formation by constructing a conceptual model that focuses on four major attendants (firms, sectors, cities and states), whose co-efficiencies enact network formation through two nexuses - 'city-firm' and 'state-sector' - and two communities -'cities in countries' and 'firms within sectors'. The utility of this model is demonstrated by drawing upon interviews conducted in seventy offices of 39 advanced producer service firms in banking and law. These interviews were undertaken in three world cities (London, New York, and Singapore) in the wake of the East Asian financial crisis, an event which challenged the consistency of the world city network. Showing how attendants sought to maintain and transform the world city network at this key moment of crisis, this paper concludes that studies of city competitiveness ultimately need to focus on the co-operative work that is expended in sustaining global networks.


The idea that globalization has undermined the importance of the nation-state as an economic actor, though contentious, is now widespread (Dicken et al, 2001; Held et al, 1999; Olds et al, 1999). Consequently, increasing numbers of commentators are switching their attention to the city as an economic unit. Kresl (1995: 46), for example, has written that cities are eminently suited to the needs of a highly-competitive global economy by virtue their ability to manipulate their infrastructure and resources so as to attract global investment. Certainly, in an era where a rhetoric of 'think global, act local' is commonplace among policy-makers and politicians, the idea that a city can enhance its position in the global urban hierarchy through a strategic deployment of resources has driven the development of often hugely expensive infrastructure and building projects. According to Savitch and Kantor (1995: 497), it is this manipulation of 'local assets' that 'maximizes the attractiveness of the city for capitalist development'. However, this focus on the internal assets of cities ignores the obvious point that a city's success depends upon its connectivity. This was underlined in Coopers and Lybrand's assessment of the prospects for twenty-first century London, which emphasized the importance of enhancing 'global links and relations' (HMSO, 1991: 196). As this acknowledges, the prosperity of successful world cities is due to their privileged location at the intersection of all that matters in global economic terms - flows of people, goods, capital and ideas. Yet the report simultaneously identified one of the major reasons why policy-makers often ignore the importance of external relations in determining urban competitiveness: a fundamental lack of information concerning the nature of these inter-city flows.

The absence of data on urban connectivity is not just a concern for policy-makers. Indeed, the paucity of evidence detailing the volume, strength and direction of inter-city flows has cast doubt over the entire world city literature (Short et al, 1996; Cox, 1997). This means that the notion of a 'world city network' has been widely invoked as an idea but rarely specified empirically (Taylor, 2001a). Having addressed this deficiency in a series of papers (Beaverstock et al, 1999; 2000a; 2000b; Taylor, 2000), here we present a different take on the problem. Rejecting accounts that suggest that the competitiveness of a city can be understood by examining its internal characteristics or by analyzing state-generated statistics (e.g. census figures), we argue here that it is vital to conceptualize a city's economic success as arising from the quantity and quality of the connections it has with other (world) cities. Accordingly, we take Storper's (1997: 222) notion of a 'society of cities' seriously, stressing that no city exists, let alone prospers, in isolation.

Highlighting the importance of connectivity, we suggest that urban 'competitiveness' needs to be considered as a networked phenomena. By problematising the simple notion of 'competition between cities' as the driver of world city formation, this renewed focus upon the external dimension requires a more complex model of city successes and failures under conditions of contemporary globalization. In particular, processes of co-operation have to be addressed as being at least as important as the city competition that dominates the literature in this field. Hence the reference to 'competition/co-operation' in our title. However, for ease of reading, in the following text we will use a problematised 'competitiveness' when referring to this literature.

Switching attention from the internal characteristics of cities to wider processes of world city network formation, we therefore suggest that it is the work performed by four different sets of 'attendants' - firms, sectors, cities and states - that ultimately determines the successes and failures of cities in the global economy. Replacing an intra-urban focus with a focus on the formation of the world city network by these attendants, this paper suggests that studies of urban 'competitiveness' need to focus on the relations between these attendants, which themselves are networked phenomena. As we demonstrate, cities, firms, sectors and states are heterogeneous associations, whose networks intertwine in the process of creating and sustaining a global space of flows. For instance, the 'urban economy' is never autonomous of the 'national economy', with the state setting the enabling or disabling regulatory contexts that allow cities to act in particular ways. Hence states are attendants of world city network formation along with cities themselves. In addition, we identify global firms and the economic sectors to which they belong as constituting two further attendants of world city network formation. Whilst these four attendants do not exhaust the multiplicity of actors who sustain the world city network, we argue that they are the most important. Consequently, we propose a model in which the co-efficiency of four attendants creates, sustains and mutates the world city network through two nexuses (i.e. city-firm and country-sector) and two communities (i.e. cities in countries and firms within sectors). Without this co-efficiency, there could be no world city network (and hence no world cities).

To explore the complexities of world city formation, and to situate this within the broader literature on globalization, the remainder of the paper is organized into three main sections. The first draws on the world city literature to emphasize that world cities are defined not by their internal characteristics but by their strategic positioning in a global 'space of flows' (Castells, 1996). Here, we stress that this positioning is no accident of geography, but is something that is achieved through the work expended by attendants. In the second section, we clarify our model of world city formation, showing how it helps makes sense of urban 'competitiveness'. In the third section we illustrate the operation of this model by examining the way that the 1997/8 East Asian financial crisis undermined the efficiency of the existing world city network, and the way that attendants responded by seeking to 'repair' and 'modify' this network. Here, we focus on three world cities at the heart of the crisis: London, New York and Singapore. From 88 interviews conducted in these cities we identify the ways that the four attendants interacted to maintain world city network formation, and highlight the impacts this had on the three world cities. The paper concludes with a reflection on the implications of our argument for theorizing urban 'competitiveness' in a global space of flows.


The initial identification of 'world city formation' (Friedmann and Wolff, 1982) was consequent upon the recognition of a major restructuring of the world economy in the 1970s. Fröbel et al (1980) delineated a 'New International Division of Labour' which reflected the world-wide production strategies adopted by major corporations who had developed new 'global reach'. This 'new' global economy required command and control points in order to function: world cities were deemed to be such points (Friedmann, 1986). Consequently, world cities were viewed as the places where transnational corporations (TNCs) had their headquarters, and from where the New International Division of Labour was organized. Updating these ideas, Castells (1996) describes contemporary society as a network society which operates in a space of flows transformed by communication innovations. For Castells, the world city network is one important layer in this space of flows ¾ although it no longer plays the same role in the articulation of these flows as it did in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, the majority of corporate headquarters were located in major Western cities; now, new communication technologies do not require headquarter functions to be carried out only in the largest cities. In addition, the 1990s witnessed the rising importance of capital flows within so-called 'emerging markets', by-passing the corporate headquarters of the urban West. In response, TNC headquarters have often decentralised, seeking new (and cheaper) locations.

Castells (1996) thus describes a situation where world cities are no longer defined by the presence of TNC headquarters. Yet if corporate headquarters are not the distinguishing characteristic of world cities, what is? Sassen (1994) provides a possible answer, simultaneously explaining why some economic functions continue to concentrate in cities despite the de-centralizing potential of electronic communications. For Sassen, it is crucial to consider the role of advanced producer services, defined as those corporate services that enable the world economy to operate through the expert assistance they give to both private and public corporations. Covering such activities as banking, accountancy, insurance, advertising, public relations, law, and management consultancy, these services went 'global' at the same time as their main clients, the TNCs. However, the globalization of advanced producer services involved more than the 'global servicing' of TNCs, with many advanced producer service firms becoming TNCs in their own right. The most obvious example here is the banking sector which includes some of the biggest TNCs (which themselves are serviced by other advanced producer firms such as law partnerships). These advanced producer service TNCs may have begun their global strategy by following clients to world cities but their continuing success has required more proactive strategies. Global service corporations have thus been adept at producing their own commodities, including new financial products; new advertising packages; new forms of multi-jurisdictional law and so on. The one thing that all of these share is dependence upon specialized knowledge. Their state-of-the-art commodities are produced by bringing together different forms of expertise to meet the specific needs of clients. In order to be able to put together such packages, firms need to be in knowledge-rich environments. Sassen (1994) suggests that world cities provide such environments, and that face-to-face contacts between experts are facilitated by the clustering of knowledge-rich individuals in cities like New York, London and Singapore.

In this way, world cities have become 'privileged sites' in the contemporary world economy, housing a 'knowledge elite' which enacts the reflexivity crucial for economic success (Storper, 1997: 222). Reflexivity is accordingly a concept at the heart of Thrift's (1994; 1996; 1997; 1998) understanding of world cities as places through which people, institutions and 'epistemic communities' work to establish and maintain contacts. More importantly, these communities act as crucial mediators and translators of the flows of knowledge, capital, people and goods that circulate in the world. A world city therefore matters because it attends to the heterogeneous global space of flows, lending otherwise incommensurable materials intelligibility and translatability. In other words, world cities attend to difference (e.g. credit rating mediates diverse banking systems while global law translates between different jurisdictions). Without such attention, nothing would flow. This is why world cities operate as major nodes of reflexivity in global networks, and why Castells (1996: 413) identifies world cities as the 'nodes and hubs' where flows are managed.

Drawing on the arguments of Castells, Sassen and Thrift, we conceptualize world cities as advanced producer service complexes within a global network that is attended to by a multiplicity of actors, four of whom are absolutely pivotal: firms, sectors, cities and states. In many ways, it may be imagined that the first of these - firms - is most the important in producing the world city network. After all, their investment practices and office location strategies make world cities 'the place to be'. However, while advanced producer service firms shape the world city network, it is only through the combined action of all four attendants that the network is articulated. To that extent, world cities are defined neither by their attributes (e.g. presence of highly-skilled service-sector workers) nor the function they perform within the world system (e.g. commanding, controlling, monitoring). Instead, we suggest that the importance of a city in the world city network is effectively created by the joint action of the four attendants. Moreover, much of that action will take place at a distance, so that London's place in the world city network is attended to in New York; New York's place in Singapore; Singapore in London; and so on. Accordingly, when the world city network falters, it is not just the city that is put in jeopardy, but the attendants. These attendants are implicated not as puppet-masters of the world economy, but as participants.

Viewed as a part of a network, we can immediately see that the prosperity of a world city is not determined by its 'competitive advantage' over its rivals. Alongside competitiveness there is co-operation, with cities, firms, sectors and states working together to maintain flows through the network. Reviewing the literature on urban competitiveness, Hubbard and Hall (1998: 16) accordingly criticize the myopic focus of urban analysts on issues of competitiveness divorced from forms of collaboration. This argument is exemplified in Kresl's (1995) theorisation of urban competition, which suggests that 'external' aspects must be excluded from any analysis of a city's competitiveness. Kresl insists that a city's competitiveness is quite different from its globalness. While the latter concerns connectivity, Kresl suggest the former concerns only the city in question: from this perspective, a city can be extremely competitive without being connected into a network of other cities, just as a city can be fully plugged into a network without being at all competitive. This is why Kresl (1995: 52) can claim that 'a city may dramatically increase its competitiveness, even its international competitiveness, without being or increasing the degree to which it is an international city'. For Kresl, one may compare the competitiveness of cities (yielding a nominal urban hierarchy) by 'measuring' their economic and strategic determinants, all of which are contained within the city in question. Kresl's argument thus illustrates the common failure to appreciate that connectivity is absolutely pivotal to urban 'competitiveness'. Hence, in the recent special issue on 'cities and competitiveness' in Urban Studies (Lever and Turok, 1999), while it is accepted at one point that cities both 'compete' and 'co-operate' (Begg, 1999: 807), the whole emphasis of the research reported in on competition with little attempt to relate it to co-operation beyond the city. Further, this failing is endemic in writing on 'city marketing' and 'place promotion', where, in all but a few cases, global competitive advantage is deemed to be the outcome of local economic growth strategies (e.g. Hillier, 2000; Savitch and Kantor, 1995; Senbenberger, 1993). Such thinking exemplifies the oxymoron of 'hierarchies without networks' which is implicit in the vast majority of work on world cities (Thrift and Olds, 1996).

Perhaps the closest the literature on urban competitiveness comes to explicitly recognizing external influences is in the work of the 'Ohio school' (Cox, 1997; Cox and Mair, 1988; Cox and Wood, 1997), which argues that enhancing the 'flow of value through local social relations' involves the collaboration of agents, institutions and practices which exist on different spatial scales (Cox and Mair, 1988: 307). As in Harvey's (1985) account of the formation of 'regional class coalitions' trying to locate themselves beneficially relative to circuits of capital, such studies recognize the existence of a global 'space of flows' but offer little empirical evidence of the inter-city relations that are bought into being through such collaboration. As such, the majority of writers seem content to claim that urban competitiveness results from locally-dependent interests (i.e. land-owners, banks, utility companies etc.) making their city appear more attractive than rival cities in the battle for global investment. In this paper we wish to advocate a simple counter-claim: that urban success relies on connectivity within the world city network. The most important implication of this claim is that every city is open to a constitutive 'outside' and is irreducibly networked. Once one shifts from a perspective that considers the world city network to be an amalgamation of many individual cities to one that considers world cities as brought into being by the network, 'the city is seen as a partially connected multiplicity' (Thrift, 1997: 143). To that extent, what is interesting about world cities is not their fixed position within an imploding though stable system (Virilio, 1999), but the way that flows drift in and drift out, speed up and slow down contract and expand, within them (cf. Jameson, 1984). In short, world city network formation is always subject to a double movement of contraction and expansion (Doel, 1999). It is this double movement that actors sustaining world city networks attend to.

Emphasizing partial, on-going and polycentric networking - a process that requires constant effort and attention - our investigation of world city network formation avoids the pitfalls of functionalist (and structuralist) readings of world cities. For example, Lo and Yeung (1998: 1-2) assume that 'world cities can be distinguished by the functions they perform in the global economy', while Sassen (1994: 20) dwells on the 'strategic role assumed by major cities'. Such an overemphasis on the functional differentiation of world cities ignores the contingency and plasticity of the world city network. Not only does network formation take time and effort (Bingham, 1996), systemic regularity and functional reproduction are often unintended outcomes of manifold actions and events (Thrift, 1996). To put it bluntly, a global network does not consist of functions. Rather, the network functions as a system only so long as it consists. However, in a 'crisis' the consistency of system integration and reproduction cannot be relied upon: hence there will be widespread mooting of the need for a revamped 'global financial architecture' to normalize the interactions and translations through which the global space economy functions. Translation is a key word in this context since it alludes to the incorporation in the network of what are often presented as separate spheres (i.e. politics, economics, media, society etc.). It is precisely because global networks consist of heterogeneous materials that the role of translators is crucial (hence the importance of an enculturated understanding of political economy - see Gibson-Graham, 1996). Given the relational approach that we are pioneering here, this will take us beyond a consideration of atomistic city competition to a consideration of the role of cities, states, firms, and sectors as co-efficient 'attendants' of global flows, 'enforcers' of translation practices, and key 'agents' of world city network formation (Taylor, 2001a).


We propose to begin investigating the formation of the world city network by considering the work performed by the four key attendants, as presented in Figure 1. The first of these are those firms, particularly advanced producer services, who engage in activities outside their 'home' market (see Moulaert and Daniels, 1991). Since many services cannot be traded easily at distance, most producer service firms have 'physically' expanded into foreign markets to supply their clients at source through extensive regional and branch office networks (Bagchi-Sen and Sen, 1997). Many descriptions of this process now exist in the literature (for accountancy, see Daniels et al, 1993; for advertising, see Perry, 1990; for banking, see Daniels, 1986; for business services, see Wood, 1991; for consultancy, see Daniels et al, 1992; for real estate, see Thrift, 1987). Each of these detailed case studies discusses the rationale for firms globalizing through office networks, as well as highlighting the concentration of service firms in world cities. For instance, Beaverstock et al (2000a) consider the globalization of US law firms, illustrating the differences in the organizational strategies of firms within the same sector, but highlighting a shared world city focus. For example, White & Case organizes its office networks on a 'hub and spoke' basis, with branch offices always under the corporate control and strategic guidance of its New York headquarters. In contrast, Baker & Mackenzie, the largest US law firm, has network of 'independent' offices which have autonomy in their own world city-regions, rather than being commanded by the head-office in Chicago.

A second important attendant of world city network formation is the multiplicity of institutions that oversee the practice of individuals and firms within particular sectors. These organizations and institutions provide regulatory frameworks and professional codes of conduct that govern the practices of firms. Their significance is especially evident with respect to advanced producer services. For example, in the UK individuals have to be members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales to practice accountancy, and have to belong to the Law Society in order to practice law. Similarly, in order for foreign investment banks to trade on London's Stock Exchange they have to be accepted as member firms:

'All members of the London Stock Exchange have to satisfy the rigorous membership criteria. As well as vetting its member firms . potential Member Firms will also need to contact the securities industry's regulatory body, the Securities and Futures Authority (SFA), and CRESTCo, which is the UK's settlement system.' <> (accessed 20.12.99)

Of course, different producer service sectors exercise different levels of 'gatekeeping'. In general, those sectors that intersect directly with the financial system (e.g. accountancy, law, investment banking), real estate (e.g. chartered surveyors) or offer financial-related professional services (e.g. management consultancy) are tightly governed by both individual and firm membership criteria. However, there are other producer services - like advertising, executive search and estate agency - that are more reliant on self-regulation, with rules for both domestic and foreign presence being relatively lax (e.g. The Advertising Association). Such lax rules may do away with the need for translation of expertise across international boundaries, but may also facilitate globalization tendencies among member firms.

The third attendant in our model are the states. Here, the relative liberalization of national legal and economic policies may be crucial in enabling flows between world cities. For example, foreign investment banks were only really given access to the London Stock Exchange following state-led measures which de-regulated the British financial system in 1986 (the so-called 'Big Bang'). In effect, this transformed the corporatist financial structure of the City of London by establishing regulatory structures designed to formalize the contracts that had previously remained implicit. Prior to de-regulation, membership of the stock exchange was limited to individuals (or 'jobbers') who actually traded on the floor of the exchange for fixed commissions. Post de-regulation, membership was transferred to firms of any nationality (provided they met the membership criteria), triggering an unprecedented influx of foreign institutions (Thrift, 1994). Here, the ability of the state to attend to world city formation is clearly evident, with governments able to react to changes in the architecture of the world city network in ways that may be beneficial or detrimental to a specific world city.

The fourth and final attendant in our model are the cities themselves. Here, it is important to recognize that the city is in itself a heterogeneous network whose participants are drawn from within and without the city. While such networks may contain democratically-elected politicians, they are typically constituted of a multiplicity of groups and individuals who feel they have a stake in the economic prosperity of the city (Peck, 1995). In a seminal analysis of how networks of actors 'make and carry out governing decisions for the city', Stone (1989: 6) suggested these 'urban regimes' included property interests, rentiers, utility groups, trade unions, universities, and 'local' businesses. Consequently, when one refers to 'London' as a city, one should include institutions and agencies such as the City Corporation, the London Assembly, the London Boroughs, the Cross River Partnership, the London Pride Partnership, and so on (Newman and Thornley, 1997). In this context, however, we would follow Cox and Mair (1988) in stressing that such regimes may potentially include groups and individuals who are not 'based' in that city. The agency of the city - and its ability to attend to the world city network - results from the shifting connections that bind these global and local actors together. The architecture of this city network is therefore often flimsy, requiring constant effort to maintain it (Bingham, 1996).

Taken together, we suggest that it is these four attendants who are primarily responsible for shaping the world city network. However, our model (Figure 1) emphasizes that it is the co-efficiency of the four attendants that is responsible for world city network formation. Here the attendants are arranged in four relations of two distinctive types. Firstly, there are two communities of agents: one functional, the other territorial. The first 'functional' community (A) connects every firm to a service sector whose customs, knowledge and practices are governed by sector institutions, notably professional organizations. In this way law firms operate in a different professional context to insurance companies, and advertising agencies in a different context to accountancy firms. Consequently, the formal and informal qualifications, habits, regulations, practices and traditions of each sector impact on the behaviour of firms within that sector, imbuing them with particular values and dispositions. The second 'territorial' community (B) is that which connects cities and states (particularly the nation-state). Here we can start to think about the way that state policies impinge on the city, with British world cities (for example) operating in a different territorial context to US world cities. The granting of powers to devolved city governments, mayoral offices or development corporations may accordingly create synergies between state and city. For instance, MacLeod and Goodwin (1999: 722) note the interplay between the British 'Westminster-Whitehall power bloc' and 'the avowedly business-led coalition' that speaks for London, suggesting that the coalescence of a 'London-wide growth machine' is the result of a coming together of state and city networks.

Each of these communities thus binds attendants together in a specific articulation of cultural, economic, social and political relations. In our model, both communities (A and B) are deemed to interact through connections (or nexuses) linking alternative pairs of attendants. Nexus I is therefore the pull that draws together advanced producer service firms and cities in a relationship of mutual reciprocity. For instance, American legal practices with branches in London may have a vested financial interest in ensuring London continues to be a pre-eminent world city. Similarly, advertising or promotions agencies located in one of Britain's provincial cities may well participate in London's city network, particularly if it principally services firms located there. For example, much effort has recently been expended in London promoting the Millennium Dome, London Eye and Tate Modern as internationally significant sites. While each has been heavily subsidized by the city network, these 'flagship' projects have also been recipients of private funding. The Dome, for instance, has nine official sponsors, five unofficial sponsors, and ten official suppliers, providing a total of at least £200 million (Gregoriadis, 2000). These sponsors include a diversity of 'local' and 'global' businesses (McDonalds, Sky, Ford, British Telecom, Coca Cola, Thames Water etc.) who became involved in this venture presumably because they had an interest in enhancing London's position in a global space of flows. Thus, and through the mediation of the New Millennium Experience Committee, these firm networks became connected in the city network. It is quite possible, of course, that many of these organizations are involved in other city networks, with little conflict of interest (e.g. Coca Cola sponsored the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as well as being involved in the promotion of Hannover Expo 2000).

In our diagram, Nexus II represents the interactions between sectors and institutions of the state (e.g. the mutual reciprocity that exists between state interests and those of the financial sector). Apart from the direct influence of national economic policy - particularly the modification of legislative frameworks for financial trading - the institutional culture of sectors can also be shaped by the state. For example, policies enacted at the transnational (e.g. European Union), national (e.g. central government) and regional (e.g. Welsh Assembly) levels may impinge on business cultures and practices. Through a combination of enticement and regulation, these policies encourage particular modes of economic behaviour, with state support often conditional on the adoption of an external outlook. Accordingly, several commentators have identified the importance of the state network in instilling a culture of entrepreneurship in particular sectors (Beaverstock, 2000a). For instance, in contrast to the example of British banking system, Japan has continued to be typified by a very tightly regulated financial system, with the activities of foreign institutions being relatively curtailed in relation to the de-regulated markets of Europe, Hong Kong and the United States.

Each nexus therefore represents a binding together of attendants in a conjoint exercise. Although there may be contradictions and tensions inherent in this process, it is conjoint action that lends the world city network its consistency. In sum, our co-efficiency model argues that the 'competitiveness' of a world city is something that is the result of the creative synergies that occur as firm networks (and the sector network to which they are connected) and city networks (and the state network to which they are connected) come together in a specific articulation of cultural, economic and political relations. As such, we reject strongly the idea that the economic success of a world city is solely a result of the pro-growth strategies pursued by 'entrepreneurial' urban politicians (cf. Savitch and Kantor, 1995). After all, many cities have pursued campaigns designed to proclaim their international excellence but have lacked the appropriate economic, social, and cultural infrastructure necessary to become thoroughly connected in the world city network (see Loftman and Nevin, 1998, on Birmingham). By similar reasoning, neither do we agree with those who argue that strong state intervention is enough to secure the success of a world city (cf. Yeung, 2000). Nor do we agree that it is simply the intensity of foreign firms (Daniels, 1996) or an agglomeration of producer services (Thrift and Leyshon, 1994) that defines a world city. Instead, our model proposes that world cities can be defined only by virtue of their relational placement in the world city network, which is sustained through the simultaneous attendance of city, firm, sector and state networks. To demonstrate this argument and illustrate our co-efficiency model, we will consider the East Asian crisis as a moment when the need to attend to the world city network came to the fore.


Although one should note that capitalism ordinarily consists in and through contradiction (Harvey, 1989; Thrift and Leyshon, 1994), we suggest that it is at times of systemic crisis that the work of attending to global networks becomes much more explicit. This is precisely why we have chosen to illustrate our co-efficiency model by way of the East Asian financial crisis (see Beaverstock and Doel, 2001; Clark and Wojcik D, 2001). In July 1997, severe market pressure on the baht forced the Thai government into a humiliating devaluation of its national currency. While this may seem a modest event from the perspective of the global economy, it is nevertheless widely regarded as the trigger for the East Asian financial crisis: a 'local difficulty' in Thailand that threatened to become a crisis of the entire global economy. The devaluation in Thailand was important because the prosperity of the region had been built on export-oriented growth secured on the back of exchange rates pegged to the US dollar. Moreover, much of the massive inflow of private-sector capital into the region during the 1990's had become sunk into overinflated property markets and unhedged, short-term loans. Through a process sometimes referred to as 'contagion,' the devaluation of the Thai baht led to similar devaluations in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and South Korea, resulting in severe financial distress. Coupled with the longer-term problems of the region's leading economy, Japan, the crisis seemed to be a critical moment in the globalizing world economy at the end of the twentieth century. For a time, credit rating, risk assessment, foreign-exchange dealing, trade finance, and project finance were all but paralyzed. The Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and a host of other institutions were all found wanting. As such, the East Asian crisis was arguably the first significant crisis of contemporary globalization.

In the event, the world economy seems to have coped with the East Asian crisis quite well. Problems in other 'emerging markets' in Latin America and Eastern Europe followed, but the crisis produced specific opportunities and dangers in the world economy to which firms, sectors, states and cities responded. The bursting of bubble economies, the slowdown and cancellation of major projects, the selling of government assets, the collapse in the value of investments and a major credit 'crunch' were all essentially accommodated within the operation of world markets. More widely, the crisis demonstrated not only that the heterogeneity of the world economy needs to be attended to - since the crisis was first and foremost one of unintelligibility, mistranslation and inconsistency - but also that the attendants put themselves at stake. This was certainly a period of rapid change with 'losers' suffering from overexposure to bad debts and illiquidity, and 'winners' manoeuvring themselves out of danger into opportunities, but ultimately the functionality of the global space of flows was restored, albeit through the construction of a somewhat different world city network.

In accordance with the co-efficiency model outlined above we will devote the remainder of the paper to an illustration of how firms, sectors, states and cities attended to the network of world cities during the East Asian financial crisis. This offers a unique 'experimental design' through which to study the processes of world city network formation. However, given the complexity of what is at stake in the co-efficiency model of world city network formation, we chose to interview actors who represent just one of the four attendants: senior personnel within advanced producer service firms. This does not mean that these are the most important attendants in world city network formation (Taylor, 2001a), but these firms are sources of informed knowledge not just of their own particular operations but also of the way that their sector, host city and base country has expended time and effort in maintaining the world city network. With this rationale in mind, we conducted 88 interviews with 39 advanced producer service firms in 70 of their offices in the year following the breaking of the crisis: December 1998 through to June 1999.1 We chose to concentrate on two advanced producer service sectors: banking (which represents the most globalized advanced producer service) and law (which has only recently begun to 'go global'). In addition, while global banking was central to the massive inflow of funds to East Asia in the run up to the crisis, global law only came into its own after the crisis. In part, this is because law resists easy translation and universalization, as many lenders are now discovering as their litigation grinds to a halt in other jurisdictions.

All interviews were conducted in London, New York and Singapore. The first two cities were chosen for their role as the leaders among world cities, though - given our network emphasis - we do not considered them to be 'outside' East Asia. London and New York were present and active in East Asia through the operations of their advanced producer services, and in many ways one could argue that the Asian space economy is centred on London and New York. London and New York did not simply attend to the East Asian financial crisis: they were implicated in it - not just in the sense of precipitating it (through the rational and irrational calculations of predominantly Western speculators and investors), but also in the sense of putting themselves at stake in it. This is why the world city network must not be confused with a hierarchical arrangement (i.e. because it is relational, distributional and reversible). We also focused on personnel in Singapore because it is one of the leading world cities within East Asia (Yeoh and Willis, 1997).

In the interviews the respondents were invited to comment on the crisis with respect to their own firm's operations, the activities of other firms and institutions within their sector, the action of governments and the response of the cities in which they were working. These informed knowledges are situated within the framework of our model to show how practices of network attendance unfolded in this particular episode of financial crisis. We organize the material by treating each of the four attendants separately. Nevertheless, we are not interested in firms, sectors, states and cities per se, rather their co-efficiency. Consequently, the co-efficiencies are treated in the final section of the paper, where the nexuses and communities are brought to the fore. For the moment, we will consider each attendant in turn.

The Attendancy of Firms

There was one group of firms particularly heavily hit by the East Asian crisis. The mix of their particular portfolios of work turned out to be highly vulnerable, commonly referred to by interviewees as being 'stung' (NL2, LB15, LL6, LL10)2. Examples cited were the banks J P Morgan, Chase Manhattan, Bankers Trust, Schroders, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank plus all Japanese banks, and the law firm Linklaters (NB2, NB4, NB9, LB10, LB13, NL2, SL4, LL8). In our sample of firms, two are reported as having withdrawn from the region entirely, refocusing their firm network on London and New York rather than Singapore (LB16, LL2). Narrow interests were a particular problem for such companies-for Linklaters it was a focus on East Asian capital markets. In our sample, two very specialized law firms admitted to being heavily hit (SL8) and disadvantaged (SL6), the latter complaining about the lack of opportunity to expand through Singapore. In banking, one of our sample blamed bad performance on an extremely conservative approach to the crisis by their firm network (NB3).

Overall, the main organizational feature mentioned was whether a firm was simply client-led (NL3, SL1, SL7) or had their own global strategy (NL1, NL4). The former tended to follow their clients - banks following borrowers, law firms following banks - and prospered or not with their clients (LB6, SL11). The latter 'positioned themselves' in the world city network to develop and prosper through 'organic growth' (NL4). There was a halfway house where followers subsequently developed local markets (SL10). It was commonly emphasized that this global strategy was, in reality, a world city-focused strategy which used local expertise to link businesses at different scales within the network (NL1, NL4, SL3, SL4, SL5, SL10, LL12). As such, firms missed being stung by having more initial variety in their portfolios (NL5) and adapting rapidly to the new circumstances (SL4). There seems to be a definite bias here to larger firms (NB1, SB8, SL9, LL3, LL8, LL9). In law the 'middle tier' are identified as being more effected than larger, more 'rounded' firms (SL4). But the key feature identified for successful firms was to see the crisis as an opportunity (SB3, LB7, LB10, LB14, SL11, SL1, LL7, LL8) and to be pro-active (LL1, LL6). This is to take advantage of the situation by adapting: refocusing, redeploying, readjusting, repackaging and diversifying are all common descriptors of this behaviour (SB6, SL11, NL4, NL5, SL1, SL2, SL3, SL5, SL8, SL10, LL1, LL3, LL4, LL6). This was manifest in deployment of resources between offices in different world cities, as well as attempts to translate knowledges and products from one city to another. Several firms claimed to have actually done well out of the crisis (SB1, SL11, SL5, SL9, LL10).In contrast, one of our sample admitted to not being strong in restructuring its operations through the world city network, with a resulting fall-off in business (NL3).

The Attendancy of Sectors

As may have been adjudged from the firm analysis, the two sectors, banking and law, fared very differently. At its most basic the crisis tended to be bad for banking (SB9, LB6, LB12, LB15, LB17) but the resulting volatility was generally good for lawyers (LL8). For banks which stayed in Singapore it was generally a matter of damage limitation, cost-cutting and retrenchment (SB3, SB6, SB8, LB7, LB10) whereas for law the crisis was often seen as an opportunity (SL4, SL5, LL1, LL10, LL11). It was especially good to demonstrate to clients the commitment to the region of specific legal practices. Lawyers apparently do well in good and bad times (SL3, LL3): one respondent even referred to 'a perfect market - insolvency, contention, restructuring' (SL8). One important point which arose in relation to law was that there were signs that the crisis had encouraged a cultural change, with law becoming accepted as necessary for good business in East Asia (even though Asian traditional business practices had no place for lawyers) (SL11, LL6). This meant that several globalized practices were able to increasingly translate legal expertise through their offices in Singapore.

Not surprisingly, there seem to have been very different styles of practice between the two sectors. In banking there was basically a very conservative approach for reducing exposure in East Asia (NB1, NB2, LB16) with several references to a 'herd mentality' (NB3, NB7, NB9, SB11) and a redirection of resources to elsewhere in the world city network. This could hardly be more different from law where there was a renewed emphasis on quality - 'in bad times you need good lawyers' (SL2, SL4). This links to the fact that global law is not predominantly client-led, and seeks to 'stay one step ahead of the clients' (NL4). Where banks find positive outcomes from the crisis it is largely learning from mistakes (SB8, LB4): for example, reviewing risk management (NB1, SB2) and contesting regulation (NB5, NB9, SB2, SB5) especially in regard to transparency (LB1, LB10). The only example of banks treating the crisis as an opportunity has been in the practice of buying up cheap assets or 'cherry-picking' (SB2, SB8, SB10). In contrast, the legal sector was more flexible, centring its global network around restructuring, debt recovery and litigation rather than capital markets and project contracts (LL2, LL5).

The Attendancy of States

Although the East Asian crisis clearly had international impacts (NB4), states mediated the effects witnessed in different countries. Politics produce the bounded institutions and structures which are sometimes seen as the key to how a crisis unfolds geographically (NB8, NL1). Two examples were widely discussed by our interviewees. First, although Singapore has been particularly vulnerable due to its dependence on Asian regional trade, its government was widely praised for being pro-active in confronting the crisis and managing the problem: their good governance was widely discussed (NB7, SB1, SB2, SB3, SB4, SB5, SB6, SB7, SB8, SB9, SL2, SL3, SL5, SL6, SL7, SL8). This is contrasted with corruption and cronyism in other Asian countries (NL3, SB8, SL2, LB16) including Japan (LB7). Singapore is said to have come out of the crisis even stronger (SB3) because it has a government which thinks ahead (SL8). Second, the United States is another country which had a 'good crisis'. In this case, the late 1990s lowering of the interest rates was important for maintaining financial flows through New York (NB1, NB2, NB3, NB4, NB5, NB8, NB9). In this sense, the United States preceded the UK, which followed a similar path (NB4, LB2).

Beyond these various political responses, there are important cultural differences which are an important country-effect on world city network formation. One theme commonly reported is that America is more inward-looking (NB1, NB9, SB2); in fact it was suggested that one effect of the crisis had been to make the USA even more insular (NB9). Here, foreign policy was mirrored in the actions of firms, with US banks being less exposed than their European and Japanese rivals (NB9). Conversely, the UK increased involvement in East Asia (NB10). This possibly relates to the UK's deeper roots than the USA in Asia (NL4, NL5). This was particularly so in law where the colonial legacy, particularly use of British Law, remains important (NL5, NL2, SL1, SL2, SL8, SL10, LL2, LL4, LL5, LL7). Beyond this advantage, British politicians are seen to be better at operating with local cultures (SL1). The UK itself is seen as being more open, America more closed (LB16), with the latter accused of having a 'mental protectionism' (LB2). These key differences in attitude shaped the nature of the flows directed through Singapore (as well as London and New York).

The Attendancy of Cities

Many interviewees thought there had been little difference in responses to the East Asian crisis between different cities (in contrast to the very different reactions of firms, sectors and nations). New York and London in particular were deemed to have had similar reactions to the crisis (NB4), with both city networks being affected in similar ways (NB5, LB3). But other respondents had a more subtle interpretation with New York seen to have been less affected because of its connectivity with other US world cities (NB1, NB3, NB7, NL3, LB1). There were lay-offs related to the crisis in New York (NB2) but these were depicted as 'pockets of exposure' (NB3). London, in contrast, was seen to have been more affected because of its greater reliance on trade through world cities (NL3), particularly Hong Kong (NB7). Hong Kong was widely identified as a key loser in the crisis (SB2, SB8, SB11, NL2, SL5, SL9), with Singapore being variously depicted as the 'best placed city in the region' (SB10) or the 'hub of Asia' (SB7). This specific process of world city network formation - Singapore deemed to be a better positioned world city than Hong Kong - was a commonly reported effect of the crisis (SB4, SB6, SB8, SB9, SB10, SL11, SL9, LB8).

How did Singapore become 'one of the predators rather than prey in the crisis' as one respondent so aptly put it? (SB3) Obviously it is difficult to disentangle the state network from the city network in this case, though it was common for interviewees to praise the proactive stance taken by government to promote Singapore as a world city. But there was more to this than political initiative: Singapore had developed a civic culture in which politicians, organisations, businesses and knowledges have been built up over time into an effective network that attend to Singapore's position in the world city network (SL3). Trust and mediation in this network was seen as important in handling the crisis (SB5, SL1, LL3, LL4), its success is built upon 'roots, credibility, connections' (SL4). This 'attracted know-how' (SL5) and presented Singapore as a good learning milieu (SL3). In short, Singapore was promoted as 'a substantial and sophisticated base' (SL3), an essential shore of existing knowledges, and a site creating new knowledges. Of course, it is not necessarily as simple as this: two respondents thought the city network produced a civic conformity which stifled local initiative (SB7, LB5), while another considered Singapore to be too small, a 'sleeper' town which had reached its limits (SL10). For another, the city network had not dealt with the pollution problem (SB11). Hence several dispute Singapore's replacement of Hong Kong in the Asian city pecking order (SL4, SL10). But there are no doubters that Singapore's city network made the most of the difficult situation thrown up by the crisis.

London and New York, on the other hand, were generally viewed as equals (LB9) but with city networks that attended to different types of flow (LB3, LB14, LB16). Although these were affected in specific ways (e.g. the retrenchment of Japanese banks in London diminishing its importance as a mediator of financial flows (LL2)), the most important effects were indirect ones in a globally connected world (LB12). Hence, there was little comparison of how London and New York coped with the crisis. In terms of cultural differences, bankers seemed to think New York more entrepreneurial and competitive while London was 'more comfortable' and prudent (LB2, LB7, LB15) but the reverse was the case for lawyers (LL2, LL5, LL7, LL9, LL10, LL11). However bankers praised London's 'infrastructure' (LB3) and the concentration of skills, communications and contacts that prompted innovation in a resilient manner (LB10). London has 'core competence and critical mass', not just of clients (LB13), but also of services relating to banking - lawyers, auditors and accountants are mentioned (LB14). This is recognition of London as a world city, implicated in a multiplicity of global networks. There was little equivalent discussion of New York except for the intriguing notion that 'New York feeds on itself' (LB4). This implies that New York's city network is less concerned with promoting New York as a world city, but that its place within the world city network is guaranteed by the pivotal role it plays in translating flows within New York (and, in turn, North America).

Co-efficiency and the Complexities of World City Network Formation

In the previous section we have presented evidence concerning the role of the four attendants in turn, but it is obvious that they are in no sense separable. This is, of course, what our co-efficiency model conveys (Figure 1). Relations and interactions between attendants abound in our empirical evidence, pointing towards the importance of the nexuses and communities arrayed in our model. In terms of nexuses, the two clearest examples are the connections between state and sector networks. For instance, the way both British-based law firms and US banking corporations reorganised their activities through the world city network is indicative of the way state and sector conjoin to shape global networks. In the former case a very entrepreneurial legal culture was encouraged by British government policy, which meant the legal sector treated the East Asian crisis as an opportunity to sell new service products, making links through East Asian world cities, especially Singapore (Beaverstock et al, 2000a). In the latter case a buoyant national economy meant the American banking sector was largely immune from the East Asian crisis, but reacted to fears of a wider crisis by adopting a more 'defensive' organisation mediated through a select group of world cities. In most cases, US firms were present in East Asia initially because they tended to have an international client base (SL11, NL2, NL4, SL5, SL7, LL5, LL8). However, being 'followers' (NL1, NL2) they lacked the 'commodities' and expertise which UK firms traded internationally (SL7). British law (in particular) has not been principally client-led which led to a particular organisation of legal expertise through world cities. Singapore was a key site in a 'global fight' (NL3) between US and UK law (NL3), with British law being the winner in this process (SL4).

The city-firm nexus was also seen to attend to the world city network in very specific ways. It was generally asserted that London firms tend to be more long-term, have more depth and commitment, and are more diversified than their New York rivals (NL2, NL4, NL5, SL7, SL8, SL9, SL10). In addition, New York firms have a huge domestic market to fall back upon to make retrenchment more amenable than for London firms (NL4, SL2, LL2, LL5). Thus New York firms tend to 'fly in' and 'cherry-pick' rather than build international networks (NL4) compared to London firms' long-term global strategies (LL5). Combining this discussion with the previous section, we can conclude that the US seems to be dominant in the more conservative sector (banking) and the UK in the more innovative legal sector (LL2, LL4). For example, New York-based law firms, despite their large size, were much more domestically-oriented and, when venturing abroad, were dependent on clients, especially banks (NL3). This meant that, as attendants, the New York and law firm networks combined to maintain rather than transform the world city network. Similarly, as an international banking centre with strong links to Hong Kong, and with a large presence of Japanese bank branches, London had more banking firms exposed by the crisis. This meant that both the London and bank networks had a vested interest in maintaining the architecture of the world city network, attending to the network though conjoint action.

In terms of the 'territorial' community, the 'immunity' of New York to the crisis (NB5) shows the folly of the suggestion that urban competitiveness can be separated from national - and international - connectivity. With government policies lowering interest rates and reorienting the US economy towards domestic and North American growth, New York retained a particularly important but modified role in global networks as city network and state networks coincided. The Singapore situation shows a very similar territorial effect, but this was somewhat overdetermined by its 'city-state' status. In contrast, the entwining of London's city network with state networks was much less apparent, with the UK too small, and the European Union too large (and divided), to offer much succour (LB1, SB3). However, use of English Law and the colonial legacy of linkages and embedment have contributed to this former imperial capital prospering as a mediator of global law (King, 1990), and there is evidence that this helped London law firms and British interests in the crisis zone.

In the 'functional' community linking sectors and firms there was a marked contrast between banks acting defensively and law partnerships acting aggressively. While only two of our sample mentioned central control of behaviour (one as a positive effect limiting exposure (NB8), one as failing to prevent exposure (NB3)), the contrasting norms and expectations illustrated between firms of different sectors is probably the most clear-cut finding of this study. Here, the effect of the firm-sector community counters the domestic orientation of the US-law nexus, with the attendancy exercised by the community promoting the expansion of flow through the world city network (as opposed to the retrenchment promoted by the nexus). This is evident in the way that a few very large US law firms adopted strategies that were every bit as proactive as those of their London rivals (NL5, LL2). This emphasizes the point that relations between attendants produce only tendencies (Bingham, 1996). Hence contradictory dynamics are both part of our model and are found in our evidence. World city network formation is not a smooth, regular process; its complexity is clearly evident even when we focus on only a limited number of cities, sectors, firms and states at just one particular moment in the development of the world economy.


This paper has built its argument around four basic propositions. Firstly, we suggested that the world cities literature lacks an evidential core in terms of relational data. This is most clearly exposed in studies that conceptualize urban competitiveness solely as a function of a city's internal characteristics. Hence we rejected an atomistic take on urban economic success to propose a truly relational approach, where the city is manifold in a global 'space of flows'. Secondly, we highlighted the importance of inter-city relations. Instead of the traditional and static notion of an urban hierarchy, we described the complexity of a processive and unfolding world city network. Thirdly, we stressed that a relational approach requires examining more than cities alone. Accordingly, we identified four attendants of world city network formation: firms, sectors, states and cities. Fourthly, we argued that a city becomes a world city not because of its attributes (so-many skilled professionals, service sector firms etc.) nor because of its function (to command and control) but because of the attendancy enacted by the actor networks that we have identified. Put simply, we have argued that world cities are brought into being through the co-efficiency of the attendants who maintain the world city network that is so essential to the global economy.

On the basis of these arguments, we outlined a model of co-efficiency through which attendants in nexuses and communities create and maintain the world city network formation (though sometimes through contradictory practices). We illustrated the value of this model empirically using a unique set of data on responses to the East Asian financial crisis. This was treated as an 'experimental' framework, a moment in the development of contemporary globalization, when the networking activities of attendants, nexuses and communities was most explicit. Although our interviews were with senior personnel from advanced producer service firms in New York, London and Singapore, strictly speaking one should recognize that such attendancy is also performed by other firms and sectors (as well as cities and states). Irrespective of this, our findings suggest that the way these attendants responded to the East Asian crisis had important implications for the architecture of the world city network. Hence, through the conjoint action of the attendants, London and New York retained a pre-eminence in the world city network, albeit taking on somewhat different roles, while Singapore conversely (and perhaps against expectations) took on more strategic importance. At the same time, other East Asian cities, particularly Hong Kong, declined in importance. The finding that the relative position of world cities in this crisis was effected by the flows, interactions and translations attended to by a complex array of firms, institutions, states and cities points to the limitations of existing takes on urban competition. Thus the paper begins and ends with the question of urban competitiveness and the idea that a focus on connectivity should inform future work in terms of both theory and policy.


We would like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council for supporting this project (Award number: R000222693) and Richard Bostock for his research assistant in London, New York and Singapore. We would also like to thank the people and firms who kindly agreed to be interviewed during the course of the research.


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1. The global investment banks and law firms interviewed during the course of the research were: Allen & Overy; Arab Bank; Ashurst Morris Crisp; Baker & McKenzie; Bank of China; Bank of East Asia; BHF Bank; Cameron McKenna; Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton; Clifford Chance; Clyde & Co; Credit Agricole Indosuez; Credit Lyonnais; Credit Lyonnais Securities; Den Norske Bank; Denton Hall; Dibb Lupton Alsop; Freshfields; Generale Bank; Hill Samuel Asset Management (Lloyds TSB); Industrial Bank of Japan; Macfarlanes; Masons; National Australia Bank; Nippon Credit Bank; Norinchukin Bank; Norton Rose; Richard Butler; Sakura Bank; Sanwa Bank; Simmons & Simmons; Societe General; State Bank of India; Stephenson Harewood; Sumitomo Trust and Banking; Union Europeenne de CIC; Westpac Banking Corporation; White & Case; and Zenshinren Bank (NB: Some banks and law firms were interviewed in more than one world city).

2. All interview data has been anonymized to protect the confidentiality of individual firms. As such, we use the following identifiers in the text: LB denotes a London-based interview with a global investment bank; LL denotes a London-based interview with a global law firm; NB denotes a New York-based interview with an investment bank; NL denotes a New York-based interview with a law firm; SB denotes a Singapore-based interview with an investment bank; SL denotes a Singapore-based interview with a law firm. Numerical suffixes denote individual interviews sequenced according to the above schematic.

Figure 1: Professional and Managerial International Migration Trends, 1988-1997 (Source: published IPS data) 


Edited and posted on the web on 5th January 2000; last update 28th May 2001

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Global Networks, 2 (2), (2002), 111-132